Things to do on boxing day…

Make a water wheel of course…

This is one of the pieces for our Aoradh New Year Meditation Walk in Pucks Glen- details here. The challenge has been to make something durable enough to last the week turning in cold water (which I am not sure I have managed) and also to be light enough to be moved by a small waterfall. I made the bearings out of some skateboard wheels, which I am really pleased with. Time will tell if it lasts the course…

We have had a lovely Christmas- I hope you have too.

It started with an Aoradh get together to share our ‘secret santa’ presents…

It was lovely.

Then we went to midnight Mass @ Andrew’s Church up on the hill- lots of incense, familiar liturgy and lovely music.

Christmas day was slow and lazy and full of both laughter, and the good kind of tears- the BBC nativity reduced me to a jelly of tears. It’s earthy realism, allied to some genuine theological questioning was great- and the combination of great acting and a brilliant script was one of the most moving things I have seen for ages.

Then we opened presents. Despite all the discussion about trying not to do the present thing this year, I had some lovely things. Home made food parcels, books, clothes.

And a lovely calendar made by Michaela using the words of some of our favourite songs.

I am a man blessed. May the year ahead give me many opportunities to bless others…



The Fragile Tent Christmas card, 2011…

Dear friends- may you be gifted with joy and peace.

By way of a Christmas card, I offer a picture, and a poem. The picture is by Janet McKenzie, whose art  inspired this lovely book.

Mary. Mother of God.

Where you born already divine;

A scrap of human flesh with a

God only skin deep?


Or did the shape of Messiah-

The mewling lion of Judah-

Need nurture?


At the breast of this mother

Scarcely beyond child herself

You took in milk


What sort of woman

Might school the star maker?

Whose sharp words


Could cut through a

Heavenly tantrum like a

Shaft of light through shadow?


Did she teach the turning of

The other cheek against some teenage



Or perhaps this was always the point-

Power and might made tender flesh

The highest now most lowly


The filling up of hungry mouth

The arms that hold

The pride at a first step


The learning and the loving

The pulse of blood in fragile vein

The summer cough


From this material

A man was made

Who became Messiah

Plastic Jesus…

Another nativity scene

Kids in tea towels and cardboard donkey ears

A tinselled angel picking her nose

And a manger knocked together by Joseph’s dad

From bits of broken shed


Jesus may be plastic

But Mary holds him tight


Cameras flash back from stars

Wrapped in baking foil

And I smile

Another proud father


It is all so ordinary-

The small school chairs

The smell of stale milk and disinfectant

The creak and rattle of the old piano

As the children sing again

To welcome the Christ child

And the end of term

Christmas for the spiritually poor…

Tonight our housegroup met to exchange ‘secret Santa’ gifts, to sing carols and to celebrate the coming King.

But our celebrations were muted by several situations affecting our little group. One of our members is over at the hospital in Greenock sitting with her husband who is not expected to live through the night.

Another is in hospital recovering from an operation.

One of us has been really ill and has not been able to eat for several days.

Then half way through our meeting, we had a phone call to say that Helen’s father, who lives in the North of Scotland, was in some kind of crisis and no-one could contact him. Fortunately it all turned out to be a misunderstanding, but it brought home again how fragile we humans are.

Yet how beautiful.

Michaela read these words by Archbishop Oscar Romero

No-one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being spiritually poor.

The self sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others- those who have no need even of God- for them there will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone.

That someone is God.



Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

Life owes us nothing.

But we owe the life in us everything.

And we pay that debt in love.

Christmas cheeeeeeeese…

Like many of us, I have been rather hammering the ‘reclaim Christmas from the capitalists’ theme of late. But you really can go too far.

Brace yourselves…


The thing is, she seems a really nice person- someone who always looks after everyone all around her. Salt of the earth. Would you tell her? Go on- be honest. You too would tell her how lovely the song is wouldn’t you?

There is a serious edge to these things though. Church and culture. Culture and church. I have heard sentiments like this (even expressed like this!) for years in and around churches.

But it has usually been all talk and no trousers. All tinsel and no gristle.

Repent, Christmas is nigh…

REPENT POSTER- Buy nothing Christmas

I am a sinner.

I try hard to rid myself of my sinful ways. I get up in the morning with every intention of living the day like it was my last stop before the pearly gates- but then find that sometime before breakfast I have squeezed in one more visit to the fleshpots.

So it is, my friends, with consumerism.

I try to resist, but the flesh is weak, the stuff so seductive- I am captivated as if by some golden snake in a gadet filled garden.

We live to our means- and then a little beyond them in our western culture. To NOT do this is strange. The challenge to all of us, for the sake of the planet, is to find ways to break the bonds of addiction, and to move towards simpler lifestyles.

Perhaps you are not ready to do this- but if you are not, then it is likely that neither will your neighbours, and more worryingly, neither will your children.

Which brings us back to Christmas- the jewel in the consumer crown. The cash cow. The season when the ship comes in (from China of course.)

We repentants need to pawn the crown and find something more meaningful to do with the money.

We need to kill the cash cow and feed it to the hungry.

We need pirates to plunder the ships on the high seas, and empty out the sweat shops of the global south.

OK, I am getting a bit carried away by all this imagery. But how do you change? Can anything we do really make a difference?

I have tried the left wing middle class option for years- doing much the same as everyone else, with a little guilt and ‘fair trade’ product placement. Always being unsatisfied in theory, whilst greedy for more in practice. I want so much better for my kids, as I fear that it may already be too late- that the addiction has taken hold with them.

And more and more it seems that Christmas is the key. If we can not resist consumerism over the season named after Jesus Christ- then perhaps we never will.

What I have discovered however is that only one thing really will make a difference- and it is a rather counter intuitive one-

STOP buying presents!

What? Is this not the meaning of Christmas I hear you cry? The joy of giving and the sparkle in the eye of Tiny Tim? How mean spirited and gloomy that is!

Do you really believe this though? Is it really not possible to be full of joy and love and laughter unless you have spent hundreds (and thousands) on stuff that for the most part will be in a landfil site within the year?

You see- we have tried asking people not to give us gifts- that is the easy bit. People gave anyway, as the powers of obligation are strong- and also, we are so conditioned to beleive that there is simply no alternative.

And the whole system is perpetuated.

The difficult thing is to contact people who you love, and discuss the fact that you will not be giving them shiny stuff this year.

This is not the same thing as giving nothing of course- but there are so many cash free alternatives.

Flee from the sin, and you will be on the road to freedom.

But… there is that golden snake again.

Not going shopping…

We did not do it.

Today was to be our day Christmas shopping. Michaela and I were going to take a day out and go somewhere like Stirling or Ayr- but when we sat down to plan it, neither of us wanted to go. This for the obvious reasons, but also (given all our recent discussions about doing Christmas differently) it just seemed hypocritical and frustratingly conformist-to me at least- Michaela is not so given to wallowing in angst.)

We were going shopping for a lesser amount of stuff anyway- we have been planning different activities and ways of Christmas sharing with many of our friends.

So instead, we spent a day at home MAKING THINGS.

I made a massive pot of chutney, and another of Piccalilli. I chopped veg for about 3 hours and the house is full of a heady smell of spice and vinegar. We will jar them up with hand made labels.

Total cost of ingredients- around £30 plus gas and plus TIME.

Michaela made clay Christmas decorations, which she will paint and string together. Later we will make some wind chimes.

Total cost so far around £20 for clay paint and varnish. And TIME.

And in the process we had a day at home together- listening to radio 4 and CDs.

While a gale is blowing outside.

Because the joy of the thing is never in the buying. Perhaps there may be some people who like shopping- who enjoy the cut and thrust of Christmas commerce, but I suspect they will be very few.


Another poster…

Here is another poster from Buy Nothing Christmas.

I confess- I am going shopping the day after tomorrow.

Christmas shopping.

Because, despite the journey we are on away from this consumer addiction that we call ‘Christmas’, I have not yet gone (forgive me for this) cold turkey.

I intend to treat this latest journey into the world of commerce as an expedition into a hostile land.

I may not return alive.


What is the worst Christmas TV advert so far?

Sorry friends- but I feel a rant coming on…

You can’t escape them you see. They will be played over and over for the next two months. Each one expensively produced- mostly stuffed full of minor celebrities.

Yes- they are here in full force- the dreadful Christmas adverts.

The worst so far (in my opinion) are below.

By reproducing them here, I run the risk, dear readers, of subliminally pushing you towards the clutches of M/S and ToysRus (possibly the most irritating name for any shop the world over) but I will run this risk as, of course, framing is everything.

I confess (I know, I am a weak man) that I kind of like the next one. Perhaps it is the Morrissey song, or just the lovely ordinariness of the subject. Or perhaps it is just because of the joy of giving not getting.

Or maybe I am just as soft as treacle.

But perhaps the worst of all is this one. Watch and cringe.

Do you think adverts like this will be banned one day in the same way that cigarette ones have been?

Someone added up the cost of all these gifts- just under three thousand pounds.

The ultimate Christmas…


This was the name of the Sunday supliment in last weekend’s Herald newspaper.

A strange title indeed, as buried on page ten in an article entitled ‘A time for others’ was a discussion about the work of Alternativity– in which development worker Margaret Paul was quoted as saying this-

We know that our communities women bear the main burden of Christmas and what should be a happy time can be very stressfull, especially where money is concerned. 

Some women see Christmas as a chance to make things up to their children because they live in poverty all year round.

The article also quotes a Samaritans volunteer, who said

People can be very affected by the imagery portraying the perfect Christmas when the reality is that it is different for everyone.

So much more so if you are on your own, or unwell. I know many people who just want to shut their door on Christmas, and wait for the season to pass on by.

What then might be the ultimate Christmas for these folk, and for us?

Does it depend on a colour coded table, set in front of a huge log fire in a picture post card cottage covered in snow? Do it need to be punctuated by the sharing of the perfect presents around the designer tree? All of these things are good- but are they really the measure of what is ‘ultimate’?

My ultimate Christmas celebration involves family, friends, food and an appreciation of the coming of the King of peace.

The rest is just decoration.